Israeli police have destroyed the home of a Palestinian family and arrested at least 18 people as they carried out a controversial eviction order in the sensitive East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Before dawn, Israeli officers went to the home of the Salhiya family, threatened with eviction since 2017, when the land where their house sits was allocated for school construction.
“Israel police completed the execution of an eviction order of illegal buildings built on grounds designated for a school for children with special needs from east Jerusalem,” a police statement said.
It said that “members of the family living in the illegal buildings were given countless opportunities to hand over the land with consent”.
The predawn demolition took place in Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood where attempts by Jewish settlers to evict longtime Palestinian residents have sparked protests that last year helped lead to an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza militants.
Security forces monitored as the house was demolished with the help of heavy machinery.
Earlier in the week, the Salhiya family members held a tense standoff with police officers who had come to evict them from the property, going up to the building’s roof with gas canisters, threatening to set the contents and themselves alight if they were forced out of their home.
Police had to eventually back off.
The Salhiya family claims they purchased the property before 1967, while the state has argued against the family’s claims in court.
The municipality says the land was always zoned for public use but is also privately owned by other Arab parties which it declined to name.
Jerusalem City Hall says it will compensate the rightful owners and will build a special needs school on the plot to serve the Palestinian community in the neighborhood.
It says the Salhiya family is squatting on the land and that the buildings were constructed illegally in the 1990s.
A Jerusalem court ruled last year in favor of the city and authorised the eviction. The family has appealed and is awaiting a ruling, but the judge did not freeze the eviction order.
A lawyer for the Salhiya family said the demolition carried out early Wednesday was “illegal” since the municipality had received the court’s permission to vacate the property but not destroy it.
“The eviction decision is for Mahmud Salhiya and his wife and not for the rest of the family,” said attorney Walid Abu-Tayeh, noting a court hearing will be held on January 23 on the issue.
Abu-Tayeh confirmed reports that Mahmud’s wife, Meital, is an Israeli Jew.
He said police had arrested 20 people during the operation, six of them Israelis, with the latter being released, adding that “the Arab detainees were assaulted.”
Jerusalem deputy mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum said Tuesday the plot that the Salhiya family claimed as theirs belonged to private Palestinian owners who then sold it to the city, which allocated it for classrooms for special needs Palestinian children.
Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir called the eviction “cruel” and stressed that the Salhiya family had previously been forced from their west Jerusalem home during Israel’s creation in 1948.
Wednesday’s eviction made them “two-time refugees”, he added.
Dozens of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem are at risk of eviction by Jewish settler organisations, and thousands face the threat of demolition because of discriminatory policies that make it extremely difficult for Palestinians to build new homes or expand existing ones.
Circumstances surrounding the eviction threats vary.
In some cases, Jewish Israelis have lodged legal claims to plots they say were illegally taken during the war that accompanied Israel’s creation in 1948.
Palestinians say their homes were legally purchased from Jordanian authorities who controlled East Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community.
More than 200,000 Jewish settlers have since moved into the city’s eastern sector, fuelling tensions with Palestinians, who claim it as the capital of their future state.